By Sophia Ferguson
I’m broke. And I know I’m not the only young adult out there who is. The trouble comes with my need to maintain an aesthetic — I like nice things — or at least I like things to look nice. As it became clear I was going to be moving into my first unfurnished apartment this past year, I began to amass a collection of Pinterest boards, took in as many episodes of “Fixer Upper” as possible, and I got lost in the daydream of designing my dream room and dream apartment. What also became clear was that I did not have anything in the budget to make that dream apartment a reality. That was until I found “TheSorryGirls” on YouTube, and they were DIY-ing everything!
Through a month long devotion to their videos this summer, my dreams began to seem achievable. I looked around my parents’ yard and the house and saw projects everywhere. I didn’t need to go buy all these beautiful pieces of furniture that would tank my credit score when I inevitably couldn’t pay them off; I could turn the dusty caterpillars I already had into gorgeous butterflies.
I started with an old metal cart that I found down by the garage while I was helping my dad stack firewood. The cart had chipped and peeling chromed poles on rusted wheels, with hideous green chipped shelves showing bright orange paint and rust underneath. I saw it and thought, “I’m an adult, and adults have bar carts” and immediately decided to turn it into a bar cart!
Once I’d dismantled,cleaned, and sanded all of the pieces, I spray-painted the poles with a metallic silver, and coated the shelves in a primer before then spray-painting them with a metallic copper. Dad helped me find new wheels and bolts at the hardware store and I put together my new bar cart. It took me a couple of weeks to complete my cart. Partially because I was working as a nanny for most of the weekdays, and partially because spray-painting takes patience and multiple light coats to avoid dripping. But it makes me smile every time I reach for some bourbon for my night cap.
By this point I had the bug, and decided to tackle my dad’s mom’s dresser. I’d used it when I was younger, and loved it, but it was whitewashed and severely peeling, and the top surface wood had split. Gently put, it looked rough. But I’m a sentimental sap and I knew that I could make something happen. I removed the drawer pulls and sanded all remaining paint off of the dresser and drawers. I then found myself in the lumber aisle at Home Depot looking for a thin slab of wood to replace the top of the dresser, and as much as I hate asking for help at hardware stores because I like to look like I know what I’m doing, I asked for some assistance and went home with a quarter inch piece of pine and some wood glue. Dad and I gave it a rough outline and cut, glued it on to the top, weighed it down, and came back the next day. I sanded down the new top to match the old, rounded the edges, threw on some stain and a touch of paint, and ended up with a unique and modern looking dresser that I love! I stained and painted a hand-me-down nightstand to match, and used the copper spray paint and the same paint from the dresser and nightstand to update an old lamp that my other grandmother had given me.
My generation is stressed, and most Baby Boomers don’t believe us, but we’re very stressed out. I’d wager a large amount of money — that I don’t have — on the fact that for the majority of us, the source of that stress is finances. According to the Pew Research Center, …”, today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago” but the cost of living has skyrocketed. Meaning it costs us way more to just live — rent, groceries, insurance payments, gas, utilities, etc. — than it cost in the 70’s but our wages haven’t changed. We’re all in debt, we’re all drowning in an overcrowded job market, and we’re all stressed (just in case I hadn’t made that clear earlier). And no, it’s not the Starbucks or avocados that are putting us in debt. We want homes. We want to nest. We like to make things our own, to show our tastes, to have a place to call home — a haven — something we have curated. And as amazing as “HomeGoods” is, it’s not in the budget.
But you know what is? Value Village, Goodwill, the Habitat for Humanity Store, and Hand-Me-Downs! A tiny can of stain, a little bit of love, and elbow grease can go a long way, and can help you build a home that you love to spend time in, without sacrificing your rent money. It sucks. We all want to buy new stuff, and we’d love our elected officials to do something about our wages, but it’s also so satisfying to see and use something that you made every day. So don’t get discouraged when you see how much a new end table or that pretty lamp you’ve had your eye on costs — make old things new again, and carry them with you. It’s made my little townhouse a home, and I’m still able to pay the rent on the place — most of the time.
Making my furnishings myself also helped me actualize this fresh start in my life. I’d lived in this city before, I have history here, an ex here, good memories here, bad memories here, and to be honest, I was scared to move back for graduate school. I was scared that I would be sucked back into the bad parts, the motions, the tide of this place. But the hands-on process of dismantling, sanding, cleaning, painting, and reassembling is growth. Growth which mirrors my own personal growth.
I’m not the same person that I was as an undergrad, I have those lessons and memories, but I’m new, I’m different, I’ve grown. The whole process was really so reflective of my own journey.
These furniture pieces have the same bones and memories as they always did, but now they’re new, they’re fresh, and they’re ready to tackle grad school, just like me. You don’t need new things to prove you’re new, you’re put together, or you’re fresh — you just need to understand change and growth, and you can make something beautiful.